Community superheroes

Doing for good is something that I’ve always appreciated, but I didn’t realize it until I started volunteering. You have to start somewhere, and I did in Australia, nearly one month after I landed on this country. It was a nice way to meet new people and support a cause and add an experience to my journey Down Under. But shortly it became more. Right after the first day as a volunteer waitress at Lentil as Anything, I felt happy, I came home overwhelmed by enthusiasm and positive energy, I was friendlier than usual, explosive, lighter, and I had a big lovely smile printed on my face. In one word, I was fulfilled.

Not only me. You see businessmen cleaning dishes and filling water bottles with a happy and relaxed face after a long busy day at work. Old people and teenagers from different countries chopping vegetables while laughing and dancing together. And students serving at tables and practicing their social skills while talking with customers. And not only at Lentils. Food Not Bombs cooks food and distributes it for free to people in need. Oz Harvest collects vegetables, bread and other leftovers from shops, markets and restaurants to fight food waste and prepare free meals for homeless people. At Vinnies, volunteers recycled clothes, book, furnitures and other things and sell them in not-for-profit vintage shops. In almost any field you find interesting opportunities. Sport events, concerts, festivals, hospitals, schools, markets, protests. It’s community, babe. When you remove the weight of money reward to any activity, you are free. Free to enjoy your time, make new friends, do your best just for the sake of doing it.

Take fundraising, for example. I’ve worked in this field for over six months (this subject needs a proper post) and what I noticed is that people look at you differently if you are paid. It’s just as simple as that. When a financial reward is involved we become suspicious, we don’t trust anymore, we turn on our consumer defenses to protect us from everyday marketing bombs. I’ve seen a lot of men and women changing their attitude completely when I told them that I chose fundraising as my job. But how can you rely on volunteers for something as important as this? It can work for small local charities and for single events, not for big international charities with a huge structure covering multiple projects.

A team of forward-thinkers in Melbourne tried to make volunteers management easier and more reliable with the project called Be Collective. As they describe it on their website, it is a “social infrastructure designed to eliminate duplication, misdirection and waste of effort, promoting a culture of kindness, recognition and support”. A web platform that would make the management process smooth and reliable, free to use. The idea is to build a community of charity lovers that can find volunteering opportunities based on their interests and location, give support and keep track of the social impact of their work.

In fact, through tis system both volunteers and charities can visualize and print the record of their work. I’d love to show it to mum and dad, add it to my cv. But also, it’s a good idea to value the time spent for community work, celebrate the effort, make analysis and decisions based on productivity… Imagine if every teenager could use his time to make a difference and have it recognized on his resume. And if every corporate worker could use one day a month and donate his effort for a cause he believes in, with the support of his boss. The project was launched early this year and hopefully will soon express its full potential. New Zealand’s government and other NGOs are already using it. Even the All Blacks are managing their charity events through this platform.

Out there, it’s easy to find a lot of different platforms, websites, blogs, Facebook groups and small organizations that try to gather volunteering efforts and promote community work. With the right tools and the right mindset, we can change the world.

The social challenge

“You need to try this place”, said my hippie friend Sam, “it’s a vegan restaurant, it’s socially responsible and there are no prices on the menu!”. How is it possible? The staff is composed by volunteers, the food is partly donated, everybody is welcome to sit at the table and customers pay by donation according to how they feel and how much they can afford. Easy.

This is how I came across the wonderful world of Lentil as Anything, a big family that I’m happy to be part of.

Founded in 2000 by Shanaka Fernando, Lentil as Anything is a social experiment based on the idea that everyone deserves a place at the table. A pure principle of inclusion, meaning that you can enter the restaurant, sit close to anybody and feel welcome. No matter your social status, your background or your economic situation. No matter if you are broken, nerd, gay, fat, fit, vegan, breatharian, gluten intolerant, gluten addict, disable, anarchist, hippie, vip, homeless, crazy. Whatever, there’s a place for you.

In every tradition, eating represents a shared moment, when you sit with your peers, friends or family, spend time together, cook together, have a chat, relax, sometimes even argue. But our city lifestyle makes us far away and alone. You don’t usually sit at the same table with strangers, or talk to people from another table. But if you stop a second and think about it, it’s sad.

Coming from Sri Lanka and having travelled extensively in third world countries, Shanaka wanted everybody to be able to share a meal, stories, skills. Social justice, open mind, meaningful change. In 2000 he opened the first tiny cute restaurant in Melbourne St Kilda, and from there it’s history. Now there are three restaurants in Melbourne, one in Sydney and there are rumors of future openings around the world.

And it’s not only about food. It’s also community space, restaurant, cafe, workshop area, brainstorming studio, talent playground, personality development gym, network field, meeting place. You can find awesome vegan food with always different delicious recipes and high quality presentation, served by smiling volunteers in a friendly creative environment. You can read the weekly calendar or just pop into the workshop space and join an acro yoga class, learn how to do crochet, play with pencils and paint, listen to live music and much more. All run by volunteers, all paid by donation, all for fun.

It’s a place where you feel welcome, accepted for what you are, challenged to improve your skills, free to do let your personality flow. A place where you will meet amazing people, listen to stories that you couldn’t imagine, found synergies that you didn’t expect, maybe even change your life.

And it’s not-for-profit.


A more focused service of support for police and families involved in the search of missing children will be launched next month, in a re-assessment of the roles from the government.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is taking this new function, which was previously provided by The Missing People Bureau, a branch of the National Policing Improving Agency. The transfer will come into force on July 1st and the agency is already working to tailor a service entirely focused on under aged cases.

Picture: MyAngelG

“We want to improve what is already working by applying our experience with child exploitation to the search for missing children,” said Alex Nagel, head of Strategy, Policy and Governance of CEOP. “To make it more efficient, we need nationally integrated data for a better understanding of the problem and also partnerships with both the voluntary and private sectors.”

Mr Charlie Hedges, Support Officer of NPIA, said: “We’ve always worked together with CEOP.” Launched in 2006 to combat child sexual abuse and exploitation, CEOP works tracking and bringing offenders to account either directly or in partnership with local and international forces.



Picture: ktus16

Gemma ran away from home at only 15, having too many troubles with her parents. After she had been rejected from school because she was found smoking cannabis, she started to steal money to her violent father to fund her addiction and was too scared to admit it. A friend’s sofa was better than lies and argues, she thought. But later on, she was led to face her problems and unexpectedly things turned better.

Hundreds of youths like her are welcomed every day in the centres of Depaul, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping homeless people aged between 16 and 24.

Mr Paul Benson, fundraiser of the charity, has seen a lot of these stories and is more determined than ever to find as much money as he can to support the volunteers’ activity.